The Thirty-Year Journey of a Major League Pitcher and Broadcaster

14 July 2011

On the Golf Links

Between his days on the Pirates pitcher's mound and his years in the KDKA broadcast booth alongside Bob Prince, Nellie enjoyed a transitional period as a golf announcer that allowed him to watch the meteoric rise of fellow Western Pennsylvanian, "Arnie" Palmer. The last job Nellie held was that of golf coach for Duquesne University, a position he finally had to give up as his health failed in the early 2000s.

During the hazy, crazy, lazy days of summers in the early 1960s, Nellie witnessed, and reported on, a golden era of golf. Here is an excerpt from Happiness is Like a Cur Dog:

Arnie Palmer, a hometown boy from Latrobe, was about to become the biggest name in the game of golf in 1960. He captured his first major golf championship in 1958, winning the Masters. In 1960 he won his second Masters and the U.S. Open, coming seven strokes from behind in the final round. His aggressive style of play made him the nationwide favorite of public links golfers, who formed what became “Arnie’s Army.” Palmer’s success in the 1960s made professional golf an attractive TV sporting event. The game was on the verge of reaching the immense popularity it now enjoys.
National telecasts of golf in 1960 covered only the final two days of major tournaments, and usually only the final four or five holes of play.
With two 1960 major wins at the Masters and U.S. Open, and the PGA Championship slated at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, it struck me that this was a natural marketing event for the Latrobe radio station where I was working. So I put together a package of eight, 15-minute reports daily, from 12:45 to 7:45 PM, on Palmer’s play. I was successful in selling it to Joe Wentling, an avid golfer and successful local businessman, who owned the Wendon Oil Company. Joe was among the original members of the exclusive Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier, PA.
The idea of providing listeners with hourly coverage of Palmer’s play for four days in three major golf tournaments was so successful that I continued it until I joined the Pirates’ broadcast team in 1967. I wasn’t aware at the time that I had applied the most important aspect of marketing by doing the golf reports on Palmer’s play until listening to Tom Snyder’s CBS-TV talk show years later. His guests were Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s. Snyder inquired, “Here I am talking to two of the most successful businessmen in the nation, one of you sells chicken, the other sell hamburgers, neither are innovative or creative items.” He then asked, “What’s the secret?” Ray Kroc replied, “Find out what the people want, and give it to them.”
Joining a group of local professionals and businessmen, I covered my first Masters Golf Tournament in 1961. The group from Latrobe included Gabe Monzo, a good friend of Arnie’s who owned the Mission Inn; Moe Loughner, a salesman for Latrobe Brewing (Rolling Rock Beer); Americo Shifra, a local tavern owner; Don McMahon and Jerry Cooper, real estate developers; and attorneys Al Nichols and Pete Lampropolus.
We rented a home in Augusta for the entire week for $400, making the per-person cost for eight of us just $50! Today you can’t find a house or room in Augusta during Masters week. Gabe Monzo’s culinary skills were on display nightly with home cooked meals, and the dining room table was crowded with bottles of every drink imaginable. It made for a treasured week of golf, conversation, camaraderie, and memories that have lasted a lifetime.
Although these men were not covering the Masters for the media, their acquisition of press credentials gave them all the benefits: entrance to the tournament, press area, clubhouse, locker room, and dining facilities. We had a wonderful opportunity to play the Augusta National course the day after the tournament. We simply had to enter our names on the sheet in the Press Room for tee times starting at 7:00 AM. The only stipulation was to be off the course by noon, as former President Eisenhower, Masters week guest of Cliff Roberts, was to play the course. Don McMahon, Jerry Cooper, and Al Nichols, who had acquired press badges, joined me in a foursome to play this historic course.
Seeing Augusta National has been described as a religious experience, and I would agree. The ride up Magnolia Lane to the clubhouse is appealing, but doesn’t compare to the overall beauty and lush greenness of the course, which is breathtaking. The first time I played the course was in 1962, when Arnie Palmer captured his third Masters Championship....

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Thirty-Year Journey of a Major League Baseball Pitcher and Broadcaster